Portrait of Pope Paul V is a painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, dated to 1605-1606.
Camillo Borghese, who came from an old Siennese family, reigned as Pope Paul V from 1605 to 1621. According to the biographer of Caravaggio, Giovanni Bellori, the painting was executed between the pope’s election on 16 May 1605 and Caravaggio’s flight from Rome in May 1606 following the death of Tomassoni.
The portrait is located in the Borghese collection from 1650
Many scientists doubt the authenticity of this artwork, considering the painting too unusual and simple for Caravaggio’s style. But scientist John Gash in his authoritative catalog of Caravaggio (2003) considers the work as genuine, indicating that the pose would be beyond the control of the artist – Paul V was known for his decent and even silent behavior, and would be unlikely to accept direction.
According to Bellori, Caravaggio got his acquaintance with Paul through his papal nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Scipione was an avid art collector who purchased many Caravaggio’s canvases, but as the patron of Caravaggio or others, he did not have much value, preferring to increase his collection through extortion and sharp practice, rather than through support. In the end, he would become one of the key figures in the last days of Caravaggio.
The portrait of Pope Paul V used a medium of oil on canvas, a common painting technique during the time of its creation, with dimensions of 203 cm x 119 cm. Since then, the portrait has been preserved in the Borghese collection from 1650, where all visitors of the Galleria can admire it.
The Pope’s sitting style depicted a dignified and religious man. There is a similarity between the Portrait of Pope Paul V and Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X in how artists emphasize the personality of a modest and complex religious leader using color and posture.